CONSERVATION BIOLOGY RESEARCH
The Trans-Pecos region of Texas supports a diverse collection of bird species, due in large part to the variety of habitats found in the region, including desert grasslands, shrublands, montane forests and woodlands, and riparian corridors. Additionally, its location along a major flyway between North American nesting sites and wintering sites in Central and South America make the Trans-Pecos an important stopover for many migrating species. Over 500 avian species have been recorded in the Trans-Pecos, and nearly half of those are species that have nested in this area.
Birds play important roles in the ecosystems of the Trans-Pecos as pollinators, seed dispersers, and as a prey source for other birds and mammals. Increased urbanization, habitat fragmentation, and climate change have all been linked to declining bird diversity and changes in migratory habits across the globe. Now, more than ever, understanding the community of birds in West Texas is important, as they can be excellent indicators of the overall health of the environment.
Across the Trans-Pecos, carnivores roam the land. BRI researchers and students study carnivore biology, habitat, movement, home ranges, and interactions with humans. Some carnivores, like mountain lions and black bears, can occupy large areas of land, and on a predominantly private lands landscape this means they make use of terrain across multiple ranches and communities. Similarly, knowledge of the food habits of carnivores, including where and when they are hunting and what they are consuming, is necessary to understand the relationship between predator and prey populations in West Texas. These efforts help us better understand the role that carnivores play in the environment and provide recommendations for policy and management efforts.
Recent research includes the tracking and monitoring of mountain lions, black bears, kit foxes, coyotes, and other mesocarnivores. We use a variety of tools, including satellite tracking devices and wildlife cameras, to monitor carnivores throughout the Trans-Pecos.
From the prairie grasslands to the forested mountain ranges, and the communities and people in between, the Trans-Pecos has a vast and diverse landscape. BRI works to understand these complex systems. Our efforts aim to explore relationships between wildlife habitat, plant species, human values, policy, energy development, dark skies, and economics, to name a few. We partner with many local, state, and national organizations to understand landscape ecology and identify areas for conservation across the Trans-Pecos.
Small mammals, such as prairie dogs and mice, play important roles in the Trans-Pecos desert ecosystems. By consuming seeds, they influence the plant community, and through digging and the creation of burrows they help to aerate the soil, making it more hospitable to plants and better able to absorb moisture. Small mammals are also a significant source of prey for many larger mammals and birds of prey. They typically occupy relatively small home ranges, and they are dependent upon on the appropriate resources being present in that area for their survival. This means that their presence or absence in an area can tell us a lot about the condition of that ecosystem. Additionally, because small mammals have a relatively short lifespan and communities can change rapidly, they serve as good indicator species for changes occurring in the environment.